Periodical: Randal, Judith. "For Basic Look at Heredity." The Newark Evening News, (15 August 1968). Article. 1 Image.
Original Repository: Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives. Victor Almon McKusick Collection
Reproduced with permission of Judith Randal.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
The Bar Harbor Course and "McKusick's Catalog," 1960-1980
Letter from John L. Fuller to Victor A. McKusick (August 29, 1968)
Letter from Victor A. McKusick to Joseph Mori (September 11, 1968)
Letter from Joseph Mori to Victor A. McKusick (September 20, 1968)
Aug 15 1968
For Basic Look at Heredity
By Judith Randal
WASHINGTON--In the Middle Ages, academicians argued endlessly about how many angels can stand on the point of a needle. This
provided theologians with lasting employment, bud did little to help the common man enter the kingdom of heaven.
Last week at a genetics course on Mount Desert Island, Maine, a professor of zoology from the University of Chicago took issue
with fellow scientists on similar grounds. About 100 doctors and others had spent two weeks there among the idyllic pointed
firs learning about the arcane intricacies of genetics. Dr. Richard C. Lewontin told them that most of the information they
were getting was "not very interesting" and mostly "a waste of time."
Had this year's course--a joint annual effort by the Jackson Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University, financially assisted
by the National Foundation--been held five years ago, one would have disagreed. Then the discovery of a defective gene and
its linkage to specific pathology or the pedigree of a family with the circus-rubber-man syndrome would have seemed important
But this year, after lecture after lecture on hereditary disorders, each of which afflicts perhaps one person in 10,000 and
which collectively affect possibly 100 in 10,000, one could see what Lewontin meant. Surely, in a world menaced by population
pressures and racial controversy, geneticists must be capable of more significant research.
Form of Malnutrition
For example, the scientists discussed at length a class of genetic defects called "inborn errors of metabolism." To
oversimplify somewhat, these give rise to abnormal enzymes which, in turn, make it impossible for the individual to derive
the normal benefits from food. Behavioral disorders or mental retardation are the frequent result.
In effect, these disorders are a form of malnutrition whose biochemical consequences differ little, if at all, from the malnutrition
caused by insufficient amounts of the proper food. So it is noteworthy that at the very schoolhouse where the course was held
there was discovered correspondence from a school official to the Board of Supervisors saying that money would be lacking
next year to give children of local families on relief free midday meals.
That such a letter should have been written in Bar Harbor, one of America's better known resorts, is ironic. That scientists
concerned with genetically induced malnutrition should fail to draw the obvious parallels with protein-calorie deprivation
is more ironic still. Yet the words "hunger" and "malnutrition" never crossed their lips.
Similarly ignored or overlooked was the contribution genetics research might make to intelligent management of the population
Test of Diversity
Lewontin pointed out that current emphasis on contraception for family planning may result in a curtailment of man's genetic
diversity. Presumably this diversity has had a purpose in that it has perpetuated the processes of natural selection which
keeps a species biologically fit--in Darwinian terms, capable of healthier reproducing.
Now is the time, Lewontin says, to test this theory, to find out what will happen if man, rather than nature, sets the genetic
limits for future generations. In his view, money would be better spent on this investigation than on the mapping of chromosomes
or research into rare hereditary defects--particularly since geneticists are now more adept at cataloging such defects than
Affirming Alexander Pope's belief that "the proper study of mankind is man," Lewontin would also pay less attention
to studies of inbred laboratory animals and more to research to throw light on the explosive issue of race.